Friday 14 October 2022

...a long weekend in Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Earlier this year my in-laws floated the idea of a trip away together for my husband's birthday. Initially we discussed traveling to Edinburgh by train, but eventually we decided to stay closer to home, and have a long weekend in Newcastle-upon-Tyne instead. Newcastle is top of my "Cities Most Likely To Move To" list, if we ever decide to leave Leeds. In fact, it's pretty much the only contender. My younger son went to Northumbria University, and we got to know the city quite well during pick-ups, drop-offs, and visits in between. I was thrilled to be returning!
  • Day One: My F-i-L wanted to travel there and back via the Tyne Tunnel. As a semi-retired mining engineer he's obsessed with large underground holes - filled or otherwise - so this came as no surprise. I prefer to salute the Angel at Gateshead whenever we head North, but compromise is everything in this game, so we dipped under the river, came up the other side and then, at his request, drove a little further past the city to visit Northumberlandia, the Lady of the North. Turns out this 'land sculpture' was created using earth from a neighbouring surface mine...well fancy that! We had a wander around the Lady's curvaceous contours, with a running commentary from our own on-site expert, and a cake-and-coffee break at the on-site cafe... 

...before heading to our city-centre apartment, just down the street from Grey's Monument, with (literally) a bird's eye view of the city below us. 
  • Day Two: We took the Metro to Tynemouth Station Market, which advertises itself as not just a market, but a good day out! I can certainly vouch for this - it was big, bustling and busy - with loads of different stalls, selling something for everyone, all under cover of the glazed Victorian station roof. We browsed up and down the platforms for ages, and I had a long felting/knitting/crochet-related chat with a lovely lady called Mairi, a.k.a. Raggy Badger, before purchasing a card and a little felt fox with a woolly scarf from her colourful stall. I so admire anyone who has the courage and commitment to "put themselves out there" and sell their work in this way - I always try to support with a purchase if/when I can. I also rescued a "pre-loved" doll (nice face, but in need of some TLC), from a mountain of dishevelled Barbies on a second hand toy stall, and bought two jars of homemade jam - strawberry and rhubarb, and raspberry curd. Both absolutely delicious on toast!
After we'd finished at the market we had a walk through the town to the beach, paused for a cake-and-coffee break, and then called into the amazing Razzberry Bazaar, a one-of-a-kind shop selling "an eclectic mix of creatively colourful clothing, accessories, gifts and homeware from around the world". Tucked away in a little back room there were some bolts of beautiful cotton fabric reduced to just £5 per metre. I couldn't resist buying the last couple of metres of some cotton lawn patchwork fabric - little 3" squares individually machine-stitched together. What a bargain!


In the evening we went along to the Alphabetti theatre for a 'pay-what-you-feel' performance of Sugar Baby, a darkly funny and somewhat surreal one-man play about an extraordinary day in the life of Marc, a small-time Cardiff drug dealer (played by Ben Gettins). We all enjoyed Ben's energetic performance, which really brought the story to life...but the narrow bench seating was excruciatingly uncomfortable, so we were quite relieved that it only lasted an hour! 

  • Day Three: After a leisurely breakfast we headed down the hill to the Quayside Market. Having picked up all those bits and pieces the day before I was trying to "look, not buy", and was doing quite well until we came to the Cotfield Mirrors stall. This is run by a husband and wife team (Alan and Carol), who specialise in mosaic/stained glass adornment of mirrors, furniture and more. Alan's style is quite precise, utilising intricate geometrical patterns, whereas Carol's work is more eclectic and unconventional. She incorporates pottery fragments, ornaments, shells, and other decorative found objects into her designs, and the longer you look the more you discover. I especially loved her tiny tableaux made from miniature model railway figures - flying kites, rock-climbing and sunbathing - inside little tins and broken tea cups that were grouted into the frames. 
Carol told me she often works on commission, either to a specific theme (e.g. Alice in Wonderland, Beatrix Potter, seaside, fairies, etc.) or a personalised design, using objects/items that have sentimental value to the customer (e.g. costume jewellry, watch faces, etc.) as a starting point. I couldn't afford any of Carol's more intricate work, but I really liked one of her 'simpler' mirrors, framed in a recycled wooden cable reel and decorated with the rich blue/white/gold/floral fragments of a ceramic vase. I decided to take the plunge and spend the money my parents gave me for my birthday - with instructions to "get yourself something you'll really enjoy" - because this mirror fitted the bill perfectly. Quite fortuitously, it also turned out to fit the wall space in my hallway perfectly too! I couldn't get a photo of it in situ without getting reflections of distracting clutter in the mirror, so have borrowed Carol's own photo instead, which really does it justice.
Copyright Cotfield Mirrors Handcrafted Mosaics 

Next stop was The Biscuit Factory, an independent art, craft and design gallery, with a lovely roof-top cafe, which we always try to visit whenever we're in Newcastle. I was happy to find that it had survived Covid and was still in business, showcasing and selling a wide range of work by all sorts of different artists. After the obligatory cake-and-coffee break we had a leisurely wander round the gallery. Having already blown my budget on Carol's mirror I came away empty-handed this time, but with a head full of inspiration and ideas.

The walk back to the city centre from The Biscuit Factory takes you through a rather run-down "no-man's-land" kind of area, alongside a busy 4-lane highway and over a series of pedestrian bridges across the A167 motorway, which intersects the city. I stopped to take a photo of this abandoned, semi-derelict building as we passed, and thought to myself, "Even the 'bad' bits of this city are beautiful!"

Our final stop for the day was at the Laing Art Gallery, as my in-laws wanted to revisit the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition, which we had all seen together on a trip to Durham a few years ago. My M-i-L recalled that she had found it "disappointing" at the time (so did I), but they were prepared to overlook Einstein's other theory ("insanity = doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result") and return for a second viewing. Maybe I was just feeling a little tired at the end of a long day, but even with yet another cake-and-coffee break beforehand, I was firmly in Einstein's camp on this occasion. I appreciate the historical and religious significance attached to the book, but peering at it from 3ft away, through glass, in a very dimly lit room just doesn't do it for me! The book obviously needs to be preserved and displayed with great care, under very special conditions, but the exhibition would be vastly improved by the addition of some high quality reproductions (done to scale) of its individual pages, displayed in a well lit room, perhaps accompanied by replicas of the tools and materials the artist would have used to create such amazingly detailed and intricate work. Hey-ho! You can't win 'em all!

  • Day Four: We packed our suitcases and headed for the coast on the final day of the holiday. My M-i-L wanted to visit Spanish City at Whitley Bay, as she had heard about it but never seen it. We had one last cake-and-coffee break at Valerie's Tearoom and then walked along the beach for a while, in a vain attempt to burn off a fraction of our four-day accumulation of cake-and-coffee calories. I may never be able to look at a fruit scone again, but as holidays go, this long weekend in lovely Newcastle was a great success!